PUBLISHED: 11:43 16 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:43 16 June 2015
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council’s Brandon Country Park, takes an early morning walk from the impressive church at Covehithe to the extraordinary broads of Covehithe and Benacre
This is the month of the solstice. The longest day of the year comes in a few weeks’ time. Early sunrises are an opportunity to beat the crowds, enjoy some solitude and get some miles under the belt, all before midday.
Despite an early start, this morning is full of mist. It’ll burn off eventually, but my hopes of enjoying long uninterrupted views along the Suffolk coast are not to be. Instead, I have the serene beauty of a greyed out landscape filled with animal sounds.
I’m parked at Covehithe, tucked off a country lane on a bumpy parking area. A field of pigs are noisily crunching on stones and slurping from a water trough, with the backdrop of a neighbourly dog barking off the seconds of the day. The mist has spilt dew on vegetation and water droplets drip like diamonds in the hazy half-light.
Covehithe is famous for its church, a Russian Doll affair of downsizing. I’ll explore it later and head towards the shore and my day’s destination, Benacre Broad.
An information panel by a footpath points the way and I’m soon walking past the chomping pigs, down a narrow path labelled Smugglers Lane, between hawthorns. A chaffinch sings, clinging to a branch, seagulls chime and a wren chirps up, adding cheer to the morning.
The path descends to a view of Covehithe Broad, an expanse of reeds and open water. I drop onto the beach. Southwold lies to the south and normally I’d see the townscape of pier and lighthouse, but for now it lies hidden. Despite the mist this is still the quintessential Suffolk coastline. A landscape of shingly sand, eroding bare cliffs, arable farmland and dark woods, and the North Sea, filling the void between shore and sky.
Today that sea is a truly magical – a millpond of stillness and reflection, sand dissolving into sea, sea merging into sky. The barest of winds brings a subtle swell of soft waves that caress the sand. Sounds drift in from nowhere. I hear the humming of a fishing boat but cannot see it.
The tide has reached its lowest point and has left behind a smooth firm surface. Bordered by a line of grey shingle, the sand makes for easy walking.
As I head northwards a shadow appears by my side. The sun is burning off the mist revealing patches of blue. I look at the sandy cliffs. Recent slumps have brought down vegetation clumps and revealed a clean cut, smoothly carved face. The strata reveals itself as fine amber lines. These lie both horizontally and at angles, creating hatch lines on the cliff. Holes high up are homes to sand martins. They dart in and out, seemingly changing their direction on a whim.
As I approach Benacre Broad, I see the result of winter storms. Trees have been washed off the cliffs and lie stranded on the sand, bleached, weathered, sanded and sculptural, like giant ornaments – thick trunks, twisted branches and exotic stumps. I pause on one watching the tide turn. This is serenity.
I soon reach the extraordinary sight of Benacre Broad. It can only be reached on foot, which makes arriving even more rewarding. A lone dead tree stands between the sea and the broad, an icon for the site. It reaches skyward, its bark stripped away and its branches deeply lined. I wander past golden tufts of beach grass towards a hide, a faded black wooden shed on tall stilts providing a wide view of the landscape.
Inside I perch on a slightly rickety plank seat and peer through openings. The water spreads away towards oak woodlands. Above soar three marsh harriers. On the water are avocets, shelducks, oystercatchers, and a lone egret. I enjoy a snack, spy on the birdlife, then depart.
I retrace my tracks. The day has become warm in bright sunshine and views have begun to open up. At sea my attention is caught by grey seals bobbing up and down, looking inquisitively to shore.
I head back up Smugglers Lane and end my journey at St Andrew’s Church. Small, thatched it’s set within the remains of what was once a huge church built in the 15th century, to reflect the benefactor’s wealth, but 200 years later it was downsized.
I check my watch and realise it’s only just gone midday. My walk is over yet I still have many hours left to enjoy the long light summer day. I head back to my car to plan my next steps – another broad or another church? n
Beware the tide! Check tide times before you walk as high tide will reach the bottom of the cliffs making the route between Covehithe and Bencare Broads impassable. Fact Box
Benacre Broad is a National Nature Reserve and home to nesting little terns, avocets, ringed plovers and oystercatchers. Watch out for soaring marsh harriers.
How Far? About 2 miles each way. Allow up to 3 hours with birdwatching, visiting St Andrew’s Church and enjoying the beach!
Terrain Natural surface footpath and then beach walking on sand.
Wheelchair Friendly?Unfortunately not, the walk follows footpaths and then the sandy shore
Getting to Covehithe Covehithe is located midway between Kessingland and Southwold. You can walk from either along the shoreline, but check tide times before you set off. By car, Covehithe is signed off the B1127, Lowestoft Road, between Southwold and Wrentham. You can park alongside the lane in Covehithe, but be responsible as space is limited.
Tea and a pee!Picnics here and no loos, but there are plenty of tearooms and pubs in surrounding towns and villages.